Trains and travel: The perfect combo

A southbound NJ Transit train passes through Elizabeth, N.J. in August 2003..
A southbound NJ Transit train passes through Elizabeth, N.J. in August 2003. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

WHIPPANY, N.J. — I love trains.

And, I love to travel.

Combining the two makes for the perfect getaway.

I’ve been known to drive several hours to visit a railroad museum, for a chance to watch some freight action on today’s rails or better yet – taking an excursion. I use my affinity for trains as an excuse for a getaway. And, it’s worked so far.

Train buffs are commonly referred to as “railfans.” And sometimes “railfanning” activities aren’t even planned — it can be as simple as seeing a train while driving down the road and stopping to watch. And of course, snapping a few pictures – or, at times, a few dozen rolls of film — is a perfect compliment to railfanning.

My interest in trains comes from my days in New Jersey. There’s no place like the Garden State for watching trains. The Northeast Corridor — need I say more?

But luckily for me, trains are everywhere. And, while watching trains provides a momentary relief from the day-to-day grind, my favorite rail-fanning activity is taking an excursion.

Stepping onto a train is like taking a step back in time.

Seemingly, most museums that offer excursions operate their trains over vintage tracks that once saw action as a passenger thoroughfare. But, over the last century, as rail traffic dwindled, many lines were abandoned.

Thankfully, some lines live on today in the form of railroad museums. Otherwise, these lines might not be much more than a bookmark in history.

Take the Tennessee Central Railway Museum in Nashville. The museum operates excursions over the Tennessee Central Railway’s former right of way.

Likewise, the Hardin Southern Railroad operates trains over the former tracks of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and some of its predecessors.

These excursions also offer the history buff in me a chance to research the history of the lines. I want to know more about the background of the many places I visit. But passenger trains, at least for now, aren’t just relegated to museums.

Twice, I’ve lit out for the nation’s capital, catching Amtrak’s Crescent in Atlanta. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s nice to relax and experience a train trip. Trains offer a wide array of amenities, from full-service dinner to the club car’s relaxing atmosphere.

Passenger trains used to be the only method of transportation, but have struggled for ridership since commercial air travel took off. (No pun intended).

It’s understandable, though. The trip from Atlanta takes a full night, whereas a flight would only take a couple of hours. But for the railfan, the train ride isn’t just a means of traveling. The train ride is the best part of the getaway.

Railfanning Review Podcast

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About Todd DeFeo 361 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.